The Toyota Avensis is just a Premio in high heels

Hi Baraza,

I plan to import my first ever-car in the course of this year. My preference is a 1.8-litre Toyota Premio or Avensis, both VVT-i saloons. These two cars seem to cost almost the same and I like their shape.

I have heard people say the Avensis’ engine is troublesome and not easy to fix locally. Is it true that the D4 engine is a pain in the neck?
The reason I need a car is that I am venturing into consultancy, which will involve a lot of travel around town and beyond.

I also need something that will take me to my rural village in western Kenya. Which car would you advise me to go for, considering performance, efficiency, and general cost of maintenance?

Leon Lussac.

These two cars are so similar I would say close your eyes, throw a stone, and the vehicle that gets hit is the one to buy. However, Toyota Kenya does have a bit of experience with the Avensis, given that they sold them brand-new once. Also, Toyota Kenya says they can fix D4 engines, so both the Avensis and the Premio D4 can be maintained there.

I would speak against the Avensis for one reason. The speedometer will most likely be in mph, seeing that the car is most likely ex-UK (where they are built), and I dislike those crowded speedometers with huge, widely spaced numbers that go up to 110 (the crowding comes from the smaller circle that is the speedometer in km/h).

For the Premio, if you get one with the telematics screen, the writing will be in Japanese and, sooner rather than later, you will write back to me asking if I know how to — or anybody who — translate(s) them into English, and I will have to tell you no.

Throw a stone. Or buy the Avensis…



I recently ordered a fifth-generation Toyata Hiace from Japan, a 2006 model of the following specifications: Chassis #KDH200-0037737. Engine capacity: 2,500cc. Transmission: Automatic. Fuel: Diesel. Mileage: 198,000 kilometres.

I would like to know whether there is something in particular I need to be cautious about to ensure longevity. I intend to use it as a matatu.



The initial (and subsequently repealed) ban on 14-seater matatus came just when these vehicles had started getting into the market, so not very many found their way into public service. The few that did seem to be operating quite well. Most became ambulances and/or private business transport.

The only thing I would advise (so far) to be careful about is the turbo. The old Shark was not turbocharged, so not many “veteran” drivers may know that turbocharged engines require slightly different (and more careful) handling compared to naturally-aspirated engines.

Let your driver (if it will not be an owner-driver situation) know that he should give the engine about 2-3 minutes of warm-up after cranking before he loads it up, or rather takes off in typical matatu style. Whenever he stops, he should also give the engine (the turbo, actually) a cool-down period of 2-5 minutes depending on how hard he has been driving. That way the turbo will last longer.

Use proper oil and make sure the cooling system is up to par at all times. Turbo engines generate tremendous amounts of heat.


Hi Baraza,

Hope you are keeping well. I wish to get your input on the Golf (2.0GT). I had plans to import a second-hand one from Japan or Europe. But a friend, who drives one, has pointed out that his car has a gearbox problem; the transmission makes a loud cranking noise when shifting from second to third.

My mechanic has also advised me against buying the Golf, citing transmission issues. How come those who inspect these cars prior to importation fail to pick out this defect?

I like this car, but after my friend was slapped with a Sh350,000 repair bill for this Golf, I am a bit discouraged. Could you kindly share with me — and other Golf enthusiasts — any information you may have regarding this car? Is it reliable, for instance? Or does it require particular care?



Usually, the pre-export inspection does not include a road test, and it is hard, nay, impossible to tell that an auto-box makes a noise when shifting from second to third without the vehicle actually moving. If the car passes the physical test, then too bad for the subsequent buyer.

Also, most of these new-fangled vehicles are chock-full of electronics and are built with millions of different parts. This makes them delicate.

This is my thinking: The vehicle is not brand-new, right? It may have seen several (four to seven) years of service in its country of origin. The service may have been hard, or even abusive, though not enough to show at a quick glance.

Maybe these Golfs have, as one of their idiosyncrasies, a gearbox whose seals wear out after a certain mileage or period. So the previous owner gives up the car, but at a point where he cannot tell that it is on the verge of going on the fritz.

The vehicle spends three months on the high seas, during which time there might be a leakage of ATF. The vehicle gets here with a slightly lower ATF level than it left the country of origin with.

A quick drive may not reveal a problem. But after a 487-kilometre drive, usually on the northern end of the rev counter (everybody driving an import from Mombasa always seems to be impatient), what would have been a minor hiccup grows bigger. More ATF leaks. Heat warps components.

The pressure wears the seals out some more. But the car still arrives in Nairobi, again slightly worse off than it left the coast.

As you can see, this is a downward spiral that begins at the point where people buy cars that they cannot see.

I would also like to get feedback from other Golf users out there. I have a friend who also imported a Golf that developed gearbox issues not very far from Nairobi on his way from Mombasa, so the car completed the trip on the back of a truck. He, however, is the exception. His car was doing fine until he hit a rock while trying to dive out of the way of a wayward juggernaut.



I am curious about these fuel-saving things that you pour into your fuel tank. Do you think that they, in anyway, transform the normal Unleaded to something like Shell’s V-Power? Could you kindly do me a favour and dig into what they are all about?

They are readily available at various motor boutiques in the country.

And, by the way, thank you for your educative pieces.

They are called octane boosters and they do transform normal fuel into something like V-Power in that they increase the octane rating of the fuel, making it suitable for engines with high compression ratios or running high-boost forced induction.

Otherwise, these engines would knock, or go into “safe mode”, where the timing is retarded and peak power is cut so that your former road rocket gives the performance of a donkey on its death bed.

However, the fuel, as you said, turns into “something like V-Power”, it does not become V-Power, which has so many other additives over and above the octane, and these additives act as cleaning agents, which octane boosters do not have.

Octane boosters boost the octane level of your fuel, they do not boost performance. So if your car can run properly on normal Unleaded, octane boosters are unnecessary.

Most of the cars I know using octane boosters are heavily modified; using high compression ratios, high-lift/aggressive cams, and very high boost pressures in their turbos.


Hello Baraza,

I follow your column religiously. (Just to ask, is your real name Kimani? Are you a former lawyer? Did you once teach business law in USIU? Do you have a Twitter account so I can follow you?)

Now, to my questions: I have a first-generation Subaru Legacy. Nice car, but, lately, because of age, I guess, the engine has started developing misses, which have, in turn, affected fuel efficiency. Is it the plugs or should I overhaul the engine altogether?

I am a bit old-school in my car choice, so kindly excuse me. But, believe me, the animal does wonders on the road. That is why changing to a newer model is a no-no for me, at least for now. I want to maintain this car for practical and aesthetic reasons. It stands out. I love it. Please do a feature on the RS Turbo soon, even though I know you prefer the trendy, later model.

I love your articles to bits! Keep writing.

So, are you Kimani?

Tollander Wabwire,

BD Officer.

No, my real name is not Kimani, and no, I am not a former lawyer. Also, no, I have never taught business law at USIU. Yes, I have a Twitter handle, @BarazaJM, which you can follow.

Now, to your old animal: Replacing an engine because of a miss is akin to divorcing your wife of many years because she forgot to prepare you dinner one night. There must be a good reason for that, just the same way engine misses have causes, all of which are treatable.

When a car engine develops a miss, these are the most probable causes:

1. Ignition system fault so that there is no spark in one or more cylinders. It is your theory that the plugs could be dead, but then again the plugs could be fine. Instead, the current could be lacking in the high-tension leads.

2. A cylinder has lost compression (compression leakage) which some people call blow-by. This is caused either by a leaking head gasket or worn out piston rings, and can be established by doing a simple compression test on all cylinders, then identifying the cause of leakage on the offending cylinder.

3. Dirty or clogged injectors/carburettor jets, which starve the engine of fuel. Easily curable by running injector cleaner through the fuel system. If this does not help, then the injectors may need repair/replacement

4. Dirty/clogged filters: check both the fuel filter and air cleaner for dirt/blockages.Getting a manual Legacy RS to drive is not easy. Those that have them will not willingly sell, nor will they willingly allow a person to drive their car unless they know that person very well (for example, where he lives or where his wife gets her hair done).

But as soon as I get the opportunity to give one a spin, the RS will get its 15 minutes on my page. And, no, I would actually pick a manual Gen-I BC RS over a BL5 any day.

So, I am NOT Kimani!


Dear Baraza,

My Suzuki Aerio with DOHC-M15A engine, 1500cc, runs very well when cold, but on heating up, it starts to “jerk”, backfire, and eventually stalls. When that happens, I wait for 10 minutes before cranking it up again, after which it will run for about 10 kilometres before stalling again. And on and on and on. The engine coolant level is okay and the fan operates at 97 degrees Celcius.

I have had a computerised diagnosis test done on the car in motion and it did not return any errors. CMC refused to look into the problem since my car is a direct import, but I guess it is because they have not dealt with the make before.

This is despite the fact that there are many Suzuki vehicles with M15A engines, like Suzuki Jimny. What could be the problem? Do you have a solution?



Your problem sounds like a clogged injector complication. And the symptoms are typical of misfiring (without the loud exhaust reports). If it is not a clogged injector, then maybe your spark plugs are on their deathbed and do not work properly when they get hot.

It was very “uncool” of CMC to dismiss you like that, but many have complained about them along the same lines of them not touching anything;

a) They did not sell or,

b) Someone else has had an attempt at maintaining.

I do not know how true this is, but it still is not a good thing for a garage to discriminate against potential clients.



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